Stellarton man opens roadside pantry to help those in need in Pictou County

·3 min read

Dustin Madden only had $300 to his name when he decided to open a roadside pantry for those experiencing food insecurity in Pictou County.

"I took the last $300 that I had and I went out and I bought a couple of tote bins and I bought a whole bunch of cheap groceries, whatever I could afford that I thought people would use, and it just kind of snowballed from there," Madden said.

Madden opened the stand at the end of his driveway on Acadia Avenue in Stellarton, N.S., last Tuesday.

He fashioned the stand out of a picnic table, plastic totes, a tarp and old plywood spray painted with the words: "Free take what you need."

The idea came from Madden's own experience with food insecurity. He grew up between foster homes, but when he turned 19, he was on his own.

Dustins Community Freeshare Pantry/Facebook
Dustins Community Freeshare Pantry/Facebook

"I was just kind of left on the streets to fend for myself and that really sucks," he said. "I know there's so many kids out there that are left out in the cold and need some help."

Madden said he opened the stand because he noticed families and elderly people struggling to make ends meet, especially when people starting losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. He noticed it again when the federal government's Canadian Emergency Response Benefit ran out earlier this month.

The Pictou County Food Bank East experienced a similar uptick when the federal funding ran out, but also because it was when school was just starting back up.

"There's a lot going on in people's lives, not just with COVID, but with family situations, with work situations, and you just never know when you may be in a position that you need some groceries," said Debi Wadden, a volunteer at the food bank.

Wadden said she commends Madden's effort and appreciates the community support.

Dustins Community Freeshare Pantry/Facebook
Dustins Community Freeshare Pantry/Facebook

"[The community] is always trying to help and some people just take matters into their own hands and try to find a way that they can help," Wadden said. "And I think it's great that he's taken that initiative."

Madden said his supply of groceries was almost gone within the first day the stand was up.

"It kind of blew my mind," he said. "I knew that it was needed. I just never in my wildest dreams thought it would explode the way it exploded … it's overwhelming. I knew it was needed, but I really didn't know how much it was needed."

Madden said he's not doing this alone. His friend, Lee Cowan, has been helping him by starting a Facebook page and providing deliveries, and he's also received money donations from across Canada and the United States.

Locals in the area are also supporting Madden's endeavour.

Dustins Community Freeshare Pantry/Facebook
Dustins Community Freeshare Pantry/Facebook

"I stock the shelves three or four times a day and every time I go out there, there is stuff gone but I am pleasantly surprised because there are new things left as well," he said.

Madden said he'd like to keep the stand open indefinitely but his next step is to get a shed so he can keep it open during the winter.

He's also hoping the momentum of donations continues. He's looking for non-perishable food donations, hygiene products and winter clothes for all ages.

"My little saying around here is, 'There's 45,000 in the county. If everybody could donate one can or one item, once a week, we would have enough stuff to feed and supply all the people who were doing without.'"